Wednesday 3 April 2019

Utah - Bryce Canyon

To be fair it didn’t start well, but travel is rarely completely straightforward.

I pride myself in being extremely organised. This time I had booked the rental car for precisely one month ahead of when it was needed. Great. The local office in Las Vegas could do nothing, and after being offered a number of extremely unpalatable last minute alternatives I reluctantly switched on my phone and called the UK travel agent. It was sorted in under five minutes. Oh and by the way, could I upgrade to a 4x4? Apparently there is a little bit of snow forecast…

Henry is 15 and a nice boy. This was a half term treat, just the two of us, to the American south-west. With a photography GCSE just around the corner, what better than the buttes, hoodoos and canyons of Arizona and Utah, all in vibrant shades of orange. Or how about white?

Finally we were on our way. Henry had said nothing whilst his father tried to unpick what could have been a trip-ending administrative cock-up, but you could see the relief on his face. He might be a teenager, but the grunting insouciance has yet to fully take over. We headed north on the I-15 towards Utah – first stop Bryce Canyon, that incredible bowl of rock formations which are a photographer’s dream. We had talked on the flight, and indeed for many weeks beforehand, about the sunrise over Bryce and where we would stand, how we would shoot it. Part of the plan, now scuppered, had been to visit at sunset to assess the vantage points and get our timings right, but it was now clear we would not arrive before dark. Not to worry though, the mental imagery would see us through.

The next morning we awoke in the dark and peered out on a white landscape. Huge icicles dangled from the guttering, and the ground glistened. Gathering our gear we set off on the short drive to the canyon. The car temperature sensor reported minus 15 centigrade, what were we doing? I had known it would be cold, but this was unexpected to say the least. At least it wasn't snowing, the views would be magnificent. I had visited once before, over 30 years ago, with my own parents. That had been in August when the canyon was an orange dust bowl. This would at least be different. 

All dreams of an amazing sunrise evaporated about two miles out, we were driving into a blizzard. At the first of the viewpoints visibility was about five metres. I switched the heated seat back on and settled in to wait in the dark. We were here now, we might as well see what would develop. Ten minutes before the designated sunrise we went on a short recce to the lip of the canyon. A few hoodoos loomed out of the mist, but photography was a distant dream. It wasn't even possible to get a sense of the scale. 

Sunrise came and went with no discernible difference in light levels, but a quick check of the weather radar online predicted a short break in around an hour, so we decided to wait it out. It was cold, but not so bitter that we couldn't remain outdoors, and gradually we began to perceive more and more shapes. One benefit of the weather was that we were more or less alone, and it was a special moment when the snow flurries began to clear and the hints of impending grandeur were fully resolved as the horizon finally revealed itself. Natural beauty comes in many forms, but few landscapes capture the imagination in quite the same way as the sandstones of the American south-west. There might not have been any sun, but really the photographs became secondary to taking these views in. 



  1. The snow was a blessing in disguise. I could say "nice captures" but then would need to wash my mouth out...

  2. Cheers, I deleted my Mumbai followers kind offers, so your comment is now going to look very weird!